Obama - in the glow of his victory in 2008- when expectations ran high after his campaign themes of hope and change. What happened after he became President had most to do with his failure to adopt a political identity which would have provided a compass for governance.
As a new Constitutional crisis unfolds, that the CIA has been accused (by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, no less) of breaking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers, those not au fait with deep politics would be advised to pay rapt attention. The issue revolves around an internal review known as the Panetta Review, which highlights severe transgressions committed by the spooks in their rendition and torture programs. The CIA - according to Feinstein, as well as Mark Udall- broke into Senate Intelligence Committee computers and eliminated the key files,.
As I have written in a number of blog posts, especially last October and November, the CIA as part of the national security state (with the NSA) has risen to become so powerful - throwing its weight around since the 1950s - that its power threatens the Constitution. Ike knew it - which is why he set up 'The President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activity'. The Board concluded that the CIA's clandestine services were "operating for the most part on an autonomous and free-wheeling basis in highly critical areas." This was after the CIA sponsored a coup in Guatemala in 1954 to oust Jacobo Arbenz its President.
JFK also understood the threat, especially after the Bay of Pigs - which is why he fired the CIA chief Allen Dulles and his Deputy Director, Charles Cabell. It is also why Kennedy emulated Ike in setting up a Foreign Intelligence Advisory board - the express purpose of which was to bring the CIA under independent control. Kennedy addressed the group on May 15, 1961 and informed them he was "undertaking a total reassessment of U.S. covert action policies and programs".
None of these boards or supervisory incentives worked and the CIA broke out every time to become ever more powerful. Now Obama, like his predecessors, will likely be faced with finding a resolution - but what will he do? Will he become 'transformative' and side with the People and the Constitution or will he side with Brennan (instead of firing him as JFK would have done) and the national security state.
The answer is predictable if one understands Obama's political temperament - which is to always avoid taking a strong stand, avoid looking partisan (and if he sided with Feinstein and the Senate Dems he would look that way) and avoiding severe conflict - which would likely occur if he sided with the People against Brennan and the CIA. Besides, his stand against Snowden and other whistle blowers discloses he is no longer invested in "transparency" which he proclaimed would be a hallmark of his presidency back in 2008.
Now, David Bromwich (at salon.com), in an article Obama’s Disappearing Act- What Happened to the President He wanted to be? has examined Obama's political tendencies and temperament in a deep way and pretty well shown that anyone as early as 2008 could have forecast he'd have turned out the way he has - afraid of political battles, and averse to making powerful (but politically controversial) moves - say along the lines of JFK or FDR. For example, if he really wanted to he could have closed Guantanamo by Executive Order.
Bromwich's premise (and working title) assumes, of course, that Obama really wanted to be anything different from what he has been. Which to many of us has been a human Rorschach. Read into him whatever you want and there it is! Of course, we can dispense at once with the nonsense of the idiots on the Far Right, i.e. that Obama is some kind of “Socialist” or “communist” - as I overheard an idiot braying the other day while walking out of a movie theater.
But then, if you ask ten people exactly what Obama is, you
will likely get ten different answers, or …..ten different versions of head
scratches….with ‘I don’t know’ to follow. Is he pro-War? Don’t know! Is he pro
transparency? Odds are he’s not, given his defense of the NSA. What principles does he espouse? We don't know since if one examines his speeches at any given venue they're all chameleon-like taking on the hue of the environment he's addressing.
Then there are those fulsome quotes he reels off sometimes, as Bromwich notes. For example, the recent response to Russian claiming of the Crimea, which in fact it has much more license and right to claim than we had for claiming Iraq and its oil: Obama said, “Russia was putting itself on the wrong side of history.” Bromwich observes:
This explains why, for example, he tried the futile tack of trying to appease the Repukes after being elected and launching his 2009 stimulus. Trying to compromise, and being only reviled in return, not grasping his role was to BE a partisan and fight like one for the rest of us against these monied interests. But he couldn't abide conflict. The hard fact is that if Obama had allowed fewer compromise measures in his stimulus plan (like the tax cuts) and increased it to $1.5 trillion as opposed to the paltry $787 m, the jobs numbers would have brightened much sooner.
He also could have helped himself - as The Financial Times noted at the time- by repealing the Bush tax cuts for everyone. This single step would have obviated the need for all the later showdowns and theatrics, including the ridiculous debt ceiling standoffs, and the sequester. Then there was his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, but instead of at least fighting to enable a public option he turned it over to a Dem-led Senate Committee, which also featured Max Baucus and three Repukes. It was little wonder it turned out the way it did, but the options ought to have been much better.
Bromwich has a term for this: "leading from behind". Instead of standing out there and taking "point" - staying in the recesses and letting others do the major work.
This was also true in approving the 2009 surge in Afghanistan, when he ought to have said NO to Gates and the Joint Chiefs. But there was his next error. Trying to assemble and deploy a "team of rivals". This also explains why neocons like Victoria Nuland still inhabit the halls of the State Dept. when they ought to have been shown the door. (Nuland is the prime suspect in the recent coup in Ukraine to install Arseniy Yatsenuk, aka 'Yats' as a neocon puppet).
Apart from that, Bromwich devotes a good bit to Obama's belief in "preferences" in his subsection 'The Preferential President'. He writes:
Kennedy also would have preferred not to get involved – realizing the political costs to himself and his party - in the civil rights movement. But he did, and when he federalized the National Guards in Mississippi and Alabama in 1963 he knew it was the right thing to do, but also knew it would cost the Democratic Party in the South.....forever. I doubt Obama would have done a similar thing.